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The Legacy of Sudan and the fate of the Northern White Rhinoceros

Ryan Valdez
Environmental Science and Policy alumnus Ryan Valdez (PhD, 2015) with Sudan at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya. Courtesy of Ryan Valdez.

On March 19, 2018, Sudan, a male northern white rhinoceros, an impressive and imposing specimen who was the last of his species, was euthanized after being on death watch for some weeks. Much of the world mourned the death of Sudan, who was the symbol of what is the inevitable result of relentless hunting – extinction of a species inflicted by humans.

He was captured in Sudan shortly after birth in 1975 and taken to Dvůr Králové Zoo in the Czech Republic along with 5 other northern white rhinos. Sudan lived in that zoo until December 2009, when he was relocated to Ol Pejeta Conservancy together with three other northern white rhinos in the hopes that a natural habitat would help ease the rhinos’ reluctance to breed in captivity.

Sudan suffered from “age-related complications” and died at the ripe old age of 45 in the Conservancy. He lived there with the only other northern white rhinos left, two females named Najin and Fatu, who are Sudan’s daughter and granddaughter, respectively. These two females had also relocated with Sudan from the Dvůr Králové Zoo.

ESP Alumnus Dr. Ryan Valdez (PhD, 2015) has a personal attachment to Sudan and the Ol Pejeta Conservancy, where he has led GMU students (in a Study Abroad in Kenya program) to see him since 2010.  In an email, Dr. Valdez stated that over 100 GMU students have had the honor of seeing not only Sudan – but also Najin and Fatu. Below, he shares a photo and video from January 2018 of his last GMU student group getting special access to the protected “boma” where the last three northern white rhinos live.

More about Valdez's work:

  • Video courtesy of Ryan Valdez

Below are links to the sources used in the writing of this post for further reading (including a plan to resurrect the lost species):